This Catskills Retreat Is All About Great Beer

June 20, 2019

By Sean C. Diaz, June 20, 2019

Through the slightly-fogged windows of the Spruceton Inn, pigs can be seen running around the open field. The innkeepers Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg know that the pigs’ owners—the couple that runs West Kill Brewing up the street—are out of town, meaning this pig problem isn’t going away anytime soon. So, they decide to step in, gathering up all the pot lids, slotted metal spoons, and ropes they can find to chase the West Kill piggies all the way home. By the end of the endeavor, Scieszka and Weinberg laugh—only in the Catskills does this happen.

A couple years prior, Scieszka and Weinberg decided it was time to leave Brooklyn to pursue a longtime dream: opening a hotel. But, the city wasn’t the place for it. Property was too expensive, life moved too fast, and it wasn’t where they wanted to be.

“When we decided to bite the bullet, we weren’t exactly sure where to go,” Casey says. “So, we said to ourselves, if it were just the two of us deciding where we’d want to be when checking into our hotel, where would we go?” The answer: The Catskills.

Weinberg is a children’s book author and illustrator. He saw this move as beneficial for his wife’s dream and for his own art. “Being out here really inspires me in a way Brooklyn never did,” Weinberg says. Once they decided on the area, they were able to find their perfect spot on a large plot of land next to a gentle stream—it was previously owned by the famed Schwarzenegger family. An old rundown motel sat smack dab in the center of the valley and though it’s 1800’s era peeling paint, overgrown brush and rough exterior needed some maintenance, the two only saw its potential.

It wasn’t just the old motel that the Sciezica’s fell in love with, the Spruceton Valley is a beautifully remote destination. The area surrounding the motel is home to more hiking trails that residents. It’s miles from any restaurants or even a town center. The couple wanted Spruceton Inn to exemplify how they felt about the Catskills, an escape from life’s everyday hustle and bustle where there are no rules.

“We don’t eat breakfast, so why would we serve it at the inn? We decided to cater to people more like us,” Scieszka says. And just like that Spruceton Inn became a bed and bar. “When you’re staying here, you’re also not going anywhere else,” Scieszka adds. “You grab a beer, maybe grill a few burgers. It’s about experiencing the now, exactly where you are at that moment. Plus, I’d much rather have a beer for breakfast anyway.” As luck would have it, as soon as they started work on flipping the motel, they heard about another business opening its doors just up the street: a brewery.

Ali Francis

West Kill Brewing was a longtime dream of Mike Barcone, who grew up among the vibrant summers and isolating winters in the Catskills. In 2013, Barcone and his wife Colleen Kortendick, who both had studied to be teaches, decided to abandon education and follow their dream of opening a brewery.  

At around the same time, Barcone’s uncle was looking to offload a decently sized property at the base of a mountain in the Catskills and Mike saw it as his opportunity to leave Boston. “Opening a tucked away brewery seemed perfect for us,” Barcone says. So they started making plans to open on his uncle’s old property. Though opening a business in such a remote place would be difficult, Barcone and Kortendick were up for the challenge.

After they’d made the full transition to the Catskills and began to work on opening up West Kill Brewing, named after the West Kill region, they got wind of another business down the way. An old property Barcone’s uncle had also owned, which had a small motel on it, was just bought and being transformed into an inn. “We made the decision to open the brewery back in Boston,” Barcone says. “But, once we got here, and heard about what Scieszka and Weinberg were up to, we knew we’d found something unique.”

When the Spruceton Inn opened its doors in 2013, though they had a functioning bar, Scieszka and Weinberg decided to wait until West Kill was up and running to install its beer taps. Once West Kill Brewing opened its doors in 2017, any visit to the Spruceton Inn could be accompanied by at least one West Kill beer on tap and even a few cans to enjoy in your room.

As the two businesses grew, they’ve found more and more ways to work together. The Spruceton Inn opened a new facility about a year ago to host weddings in its picturesque valley. “Every wedding those two host has West Kill beer on tap,” Barcone says. “We’ll even throw their rehearsal dinner here in the taproom. It really gives these people that fully inclusive Catskills experience.”

The next step in the inn and brewery’s relationship involved Weinberg’s paintings on West Kill’s products. Though Barcone had asked a different local artist to design his first set of labels for his flagship beers—Moon Farmer IPA, Earn Your Keep pale ale, Buck Fever Vienna Lager, and Doodlebug pilsner—but he knew Weinberg’s style would closer match the newer beers he’d been cooking up. “Our first series of beers we ever came out with has a very unique set of can labels. They’re folky and give a real sense of the breweries aesthetic,” Barcone says. “Hell, people have asked if they can get the Moon Farmer label tattooed.”

When it came time to roll out a new series of sours and wild ales as well as a lager and an IPA, Barcone asked Weinberg to paint the label art. “We wanted our new series to feel uniquely different,” Barcone says. “We wanted these new labels to resemble what it’s like to be here, in this place. That’s why we asked Steven to paint the labels.” Weinberg’s art style is simple, utilizing broad strokes and vivid colors with his preferred watercolor medium. To Barcone, it is the perfect representation of the Catskill mountains.

Weinberg painted several labels for the new beers. The first was for a beer called Brookie, an American lager named after a fish found in the Catskill region. He also painted labels for Rusk, a dry wild saison, and Kaaterskill, an IPA named after the Kaaterskill Falls. “Many famous painters have painted those falls,” Weinberg says. “Being asked to do the same was both a dream come true and super intimidating. Those falls perfectly resemble how soft and balanced that IPA is, too.”

In the coming summer months, West Kill plans to release the series of sours, each designed and named after a different fishing fly. The new labels, like Brookie, are simplistic and feature a single fly on a white backdrop. “We love how the can and bottle art evokes different feelings in people,” Barcone says. “Each label tells a story, and this lets our customers be a part of that. Not only is that open field on the bottle, but it’s also right out your window.”

According to Barcone, these collaborations, “Brings life to what each of our businesses are doing.” The owners of both the Spruceton Inn and West Kill Brewing have found their rhythm in collaboration. They’re no longer just working together on projects—it’s as if their two businesses are joined at the hip. “We really couldn’t exist without each other,” Barcone says. “It’s a relationship I wouldn’t trade for the world.”

The two businesses continually look for ways to collaborate and benefit each other. Whether it’s hosting brewers at the inn so they can collaborate with West Kill or just wrangling up the pigs again, they’re always looking out for one another. “We still stay up late sometimes, drinking a couple good beers and scheming terrible, if not strange, new ideas,” Scieszka says. “We’re really excited to see the two of our businesses grow together.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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